Western Culture & Colonization of Birth

Western Culture

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The West encourages reading and the attendance of Childbirth Education classes, along with other strategies for birthing.  In traditional cultures women “…prepare more symbolically.  They avoid all actions and thoughts that have anything to do with ‘getting stuck’ or ‘closing up’ and work on ‘letting go’. In traditional societies, women often go to midwives to confirm the pregnancy and then again only if there are special problems… (Nichols & Humenick,145)” prior to childbirth.

Another aspect is that most women within many traditional cultures used to be more directly involved in the childbearing and child birthing aspects from a young age. Her mother or aunts and grandmother would have taught her about the processes of childbearing and childbirth during childhood and/or adolescent years.  The concepts used to have “…been integrated into her maturity into adulthood (Ibid.)”. It would have come from her experiential life and stories told to her instead of a class or books.

Unfortunately, much of this kind of experience and tradition has been lost or is no longer practiced today by women. Some of the other women will talk about this or that grandma who was a midwife, and who may have been allowed at IHS for a birth. When I have asked women, they mostly talk about a more negative experience of their childbirth, if they speak up.

Traditionally, the birth of a baby was in the home, not a hospital.  Some cultures used “a special hut [that] is constructed for that purpose ;…(Ibid)”. But today, birthing mostly takes place in a hospital setting.

Close to the reservation are border towns, where bias and prejudice color the atmosphere of birth. Due to past experiences with IHS, many women may opt to not have their babies at these hospitals. Without midwives to deliver locally, this is what women on the Rosebud (Sicangu Oyate) Reservation face today.

In border towns, the hospitals have their own regulations as to who may attend the birth. They may also decide on whether a woman can have assisted births (Nurse-midwives/doulas/or family supporters).

De-Colonization of Birth
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In the 90s, several women, including myself, were having weekly meetings regarding birth in Indian country. Each week we would have speakers come to share their stories and ideas.

I found it interesting that the biggest objections came via a native woman who was working at IHS. She bluntly stated that no midwife would work through the IHS hospital in Rosebud, if she had a say.

IHS or PHS is a government funded health organization in the United States intended specifically for native health care.  Unfortunately it has its own regulations based upon the government in which native people have been the object of clinical abuse and government sanctioned studies [such as the Eugenics Program; See: ]. The intent of these studies was to lower native populations.

Such historical actions color the way in which indigenous women see childbirth in the dominant society. It creates an atmosphere of distrust in native women, that they too would be subject to similar treatment.

And lest we forget, there have been studies that demonstrated genetic memories. So whether the Eugenics Program was known to them or not, the emotional trauma would still be triggered.

Native women feel marginalized by non-native providers of health care, due to attitudes of the providers. If native health care providers are not available, cultural competence of the health care provider that is on hand is an essential for the indigenous person giving birth. In a study conducted with first-nations women, specially the Mi’kmaq, Lothian stated that “Women need to be assured they can have trust in the birth process (Lavell-Harvard & Lavelle, 50)”.

There are native women who have become Doulas, and who are nurse-midwives. In Vancouver, BC there is a group of women from the Squamish people working to assist women [Ekw’i7tl Doula Collective]. In Minnesota there is a group of native people from the Anishinabe that is training women in Doula work, Childbirth Education, and Breastfeeding [Mewinzha Ondaadiziike Wiigaming /Bemidji, MN]. In New Mexico the first native birthing center [The Changing Woman Initiative] is being developed for  indigenous women.

 

 

 

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Baby Wearing – Part 1

Baby Wearing

USA 1920s
1950s – American Woman Carrying a Baby

Many cultures have used baby wearing for a variety of reasons.  Some cultures have lost the wisdom behind its use, and many have gravitated to more modern ways, such as the use of a stroller or pram to bring babies along with them on walks and to the store.

In pre-historical times mothers had to devise ways to forage and hunt while carrying for babies. Skins, bark, hand-woven reeds, or bark would have been constructed to assist in keeping baby close and safe. When woven fabrics were invented, women would have utilized long woven wraps or shawls to tie their babies into carrying positions either next to the chest or on their back.


A few words for baby carriers in various languages exist:

Amauti: an Inuit back pouch that was incorporated with the coat, the pouch created when cinched at the waist.  The baby was then held high up on the back lying on a bed of fur within the pouch.

Dakkohimo or onbuhimo: a Japanese carrier using cloth and straps that would go over the shoulders. It was worn either on the front or the back.  It could be used by the mother, siblings, or grandparents.

Mei tai:  Chinese fabric panel with for straps attached at each corner.  The bottom two straps are tied at the waist; the upper two crisscross either for front-carrying or back carrying. The fabric panel supports the whole torso.

Podaegi: used by Koreans used a blanket-like appearing traditional wrap that has straps.  Infant through toddler-aged were back-carried.

Kanga: a rectangular cloth that wraps around both mother and baby to assist back-carrying used in Kenya.

Selendang:  A rectangular batik cloth that is tucked and folded to form a sling is used by the women in Indonesia.

Can’ic’ik’oƞpa: The Lakota “cradle board” using two attached boards for carrying.
The Welsh kept their tradition of blanket-wrapping until the 50s, when it almost died out.  It is seeing somewhat of renewal today. You can see images here: Celtic Baby Carrying

Around the early 1900s the use of baby carrying or wearing became out of fashion, because of social ideas.  It was thought that only poor persons used this method.  It was deemed a method of “spoiling” a baby, to spend so much time in such close contact.

To continue on this topic see: Part 2

Culture Part II

Cultural Perspectives on Childbirth

Achomawi mother and childMulti-cultural Beliefs (Continued)

Last week I ended with discussion about the Lakota belief in a spiritual being who assists the souls of the unborn in their journey to human existence. It is thought she “marks” them before entry into this world.  This “mark” is what the medical field calls a “Mongolian” mark.

Because of the spiritual forces in play, many indigenous cultures had and still practice rituals at the birth of a child. This is due to the understanding that childbearing and childbirth are a sacred act.

This may not necessarily be understood by present-day women within the culture, but in their soul and spirit the women do recognize that modern medicine’s “managed care” works against the traditions and ageless wisdom of their tribe. This is true whether they have a traditional spiritually based upbringing in their lives or they have adopted non-traditional religious practice. Their sense of “knowing” from their soul, speaks out against what is not natural and spiritual in the birthing process.

Western culture encourages reading and the attendance of Childbirth Education classes, along with other strategies for birthing. In traditional cultures women “…prepare more symbolically. They avoid all actions and thoughts that have anything to do with ‘getting stuck’ or ‘closing up’ and ‘letting go’…  In traditional societies, women often go to midwives to confirm the pregnancy and then again only if there are special problems… (145)” prior to childbirth.

Another aspect is that most women within many traditional cultures would have been directly involved in the childbearing and child birthing aspects from a young age. Her mother or aunts and grandmother would have taught her about the processes of childbearing and childbirth during childhood and/or adolescent years. The concepts would have “…been integrated into her maturity into adulthood (Ibid.)”. It would have come from her experiential life and stories told to her instead of a class or books.

Unfortunately, much of this kind of experiential life and tradition has been lost or no longer practiced today by local tribal women. Some of the other women will talk about this or that grandma who was a midwife, and who may have been allowed at IHS for a birth. When I have asked women, they mostly talk about a more negative experience for their childbirth if they speak up at all.

Traditionally, the birth of a baby was in the home, not a hospital. Some cultures used “a special hut [that] is constructed for that purpose ;…(Ibid)”. But today in the local area, birthing mostly takes place in a hospital setting, here on the reservation. Locally, there is the IHS. There also is Winner Regional, in Winner South Dakota (45 minutes from Mission, SD) or Cherry County Hospital in Valentine, NE.

Due to past experiences with IHS (the “Eugenics Project” of the 60s and 70s, for one), many women may opt to not have their babies unless there is an emergency. Both Winner and Valentine have doctors that have demonstrated certain biases against native women. Without midwives to deliver locally, this is what women on the Rosebud (Sicangu Oyate) Reservation face today (with the exception of one community).

Each of these three hospitals has their own regulations as to who may attend the birth. They also decide on whether a woman can have assisted births (Nurse-midwives/doulas/etc.).  My attempts to discover these policies, and the reasons for them, have been futile.

– Next week will be “Part 1 – The issues that affect Lakota Native women during pregnancy and childbirth in regards to: Racism, Sexism, and Oppression”

 

Culture Part 1

Cultural Perspectives on Childbirth

 cropped-na-mother-and-child.jpgEvery aspect of who we are from our behaviors to our learning processes is framed by our culture. The whole idea of a “melting pot” in America where many cultures blend to become one culture, is a fallacy. People of like cultural and ethnic background tend to gravitate towards what is similar and familiar. It shapes their identity.

This is particularly true of treaty nations (indigenous peoples) who struggle to keep their own tribal identity. Even in the cities, away from reservations, native people gravitate toward what is familiar and comfortable (besides where else would they get some Indian Tacos?).

Every indigenous group has their own cultural beliefs, rituals and traditions. Even for pregnancy and childbirth. How childbirth took place was shaped by cultural values, ways of knowing, and framed within ritual and belief.

Unfortunately the cultural aspects were not all preserved and kept in all tribal groups, due encroachment from white society. This encroachment has created a rift in fabric of cultural life. “The culture in which people grow up is one of the key influences on the way they see and react to the world and the way they behave (139).”

For many cultures, including the Lakota, pregnancy and childbirth is much more than just a physical act. It is believed that a spiritual force is at work. Concepts, customs, and traditions develop around these spiritual beliefs.

Here are some of the sites I found, for other cultures:

http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/immexico_healing.asp
http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/main_misc_wait_babies.html
http://ihst.midwife.org/ihst/files/ccLibraryFiles/Filename/000000000004/IHS%20Midwives.pdf

Multi-Cultural Beliefs

Within each indigenous culture are the ideas and concepts that surround the actions of the pregnant woman, her diet, how others should act when around her. Some ideas and traditions actually carry across into multiple cultures around the world.

One concept has to do with knots and ties. That if these were within view of a pregnant woman, or she stepped across them, it would cause the umbilical cord to be tangled at birth. Another has to do with actions of others. If you fight around a pregnant woman or with one, it causes problems with her pregnancy.

For most indigenous cultures there are concepts taught regarding the spiritual aspects of birth and early childhood. There are beliefs in a female spirit that assists in childbirth, and also assists the soul of the child in “picking” the family in which they will be born. Infants and young children are often considered “sacred beings” and our actions with them must be tempered by this belief.

-More next week, in Part 2.